Symptoms of Bacterial Infections that Mimic Vaginal Yeast Infections

Many of the bacterial infections that mimic Candida infections are much more serious than a yeast infection, and common anti-fungal medications won’t help.

It is not possible to self-diagnose a vaginal infection by the symptoms alone. Yet studies have shown that the majority of women who buy over-the-counter fungicides are trying to treat a yeast infection, when they actually have one of the bacterial infections.

In some instances, especially during pregnancy, this can be a dangerous mistake.



The following list shows some of the conditions that may mimic a yeast infection, but which need to be treated differently. The best advice, as always, is to see a doctor and get her advice, instead of trying to diagnose your own symptoms.

  • Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is actually the most common cause of vaginal discharge, itching and an unpleasant vaginal odor, and is a much more serious medical condition than a yeast infection. You may have bacterial vaginosis if you have a vaginal discharge with a fishy odor that is stronger after sex or after washing, and which is clear or has a white, gray or yellow color. The discharge can be either light or heavy.

The symptoms can vary so much because bacterial vaginosis is caused by several different kinds of anaerobic bacteria that occasionally outnumber the “good” bacteria, (Lactobacillus), that live in the vagina.

This is not a sexually transmitted disease, even though it is most common among sexually active women. Bacterial vaginosis needs to be treated by antibiotics to prevent the bacteria from going into the uterus or fallopian tubes. This is particularly important if you’re pregnant. Since a douche can push the bacterial infections up into the uterus, you should never use a douche if you have these symptoms.

Yeast infections are very common during pregnancy, but a bacterial infection that looks like a yeast infection is actually more serious. An untreated bacterial infection can cause premature birth, intra-amniotic infection, (infection of the amniotic fluid, membranes, placenta, and/or uterus), and postpartum infections of the uterus that send you back to the hospital after giving birth.

What that means, of course, is that you should never attempt to self-diagnose and treat a yeast infection when you’re pregnant, because it may be bacterial vaginosis instead.

  • Vulvitis

A condition called vulvitis will have almost exactly the same external symptoms as a vaginal yeast infection, and can be caused by Candida. However, vulvitis can also be caused by dermatitis, seborrhea or eczema, or by an allergic reaction to chemicals found in soap, colored toilet paper, vaginal sprays, laundry detergent, and colored and scented bubble bath products.

In addition, vulvitis can be caused by bacterial infections (see below), pubic lice, and scabies. Or, your symptoms can be caused by gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis.

  • Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is caused by a tiny parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. Men get this parasite too, and it can be passed between sexual partners. It can also be passed from a mother to her baby during birth, and between couples who share sex toys. About half of the time an infected person has no symptoms.

In women, the common symptoms, (when there are any), will be a vaginal discharge that is thin or frothy, and which may have a musty or fishy smell. There may be itching or soreness, and there may be pain during sex or urination. There may also be tenderness in the lower abdomen. Symptoms are sometimes more apparent after your period.

Men who have symptoms may see a thin whitish discharge from the penis, and pain or burning during urination. Men often have no symptoms at all. Antibiotics are needed to get rid of the parasite.

  • Chlamydia and Gonorrhea

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are sexually transmitted diseases that sometimes cause a vaginal discharge.

Chlamydia is caused by a bacterium called Chlamydia trachomatis. It can cause damage to a woman’s reproductive organs. Chlamydia is the most frequently reported sexually transmitted disease in the United States.

Many women infected by Chlamydia do not have any symptoms at all, but some people report a vaginal discharge or a burning sensation when urinating. If the infection spreads past the cervix and into the uterus and fallopian tubes, it can cause permanent damage, so this infection must be treated promptly by a doctor.

Gonorrhea is caused by bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. If the infection is not treated, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can be painful, and which can damage the fallopian tubes. This can lead to infertility or an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy.

This is another condition that may be present without symptoms. When symptoms do occur, you may experience abnormal bleeding, a vaginal discharge, a burning sensation when urinating, and irritation of the genital area. Men may experience a discharge from the penis and painful urination, and possible swelling or redness of the genitals.

Both Chlamydia and gonorrhea are serious health threats, and must be treated with antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. Anti-fungal treatments designed for yeast infections will not help!

  • Urinary Tract Infections

A urinary tract infection is caused by bacteria that infect the urethra (the tube that urine comes out of). A urinary tract infection hurts, with pain or burning during urination. There may also be blood or mucus in the urine, (but not always); you may need to “go” often; and you may feel pressure in your lower back or abdomen. You may feel feverish or chilled, but this doesn’t always happen.

A urinary infection is a serious condition. If it is left untreated it can cause kidney damage. If you feel the symptoms, get yourself to a doctor.

When bacterial infections can be serious

If you have a vaginal discharge and/or fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain, you may be experiencing symptoms of a serious problem, such as a kidney infection, appendicitis or pelvic inflammatory disease. If you have any of these symptoms you should get to a doctor or urgent care facility as soon as you can.

Why a diagnosis is so important

Clearly, a topical treatment intended for Candida will not help if Candida is not the cause of your symptoms. Some infections caused by bacteria or parasites will have temporary symptoms that go away, making it look like your self-medication worked – but only the symptoms are gone. The infection may still be there, even though you can’t feel it, and it could be doing damage. If you use a yeast infection medication and the symptoms disappear, you could be lulled into thinking all your problems are gone, when they’re not.

You should definitely see your doctor if you try a non-prescription yeast infection treatment and it doesn’t work, even if you’ve had a yeast infection before and the symptoms seem “obvious.” The same can be said if you try one of the natural yeast infection cures, but your symptoms don’t clear up.

Your doctor may be able to diagnose your symptoms without a laboratory test, but if she’s not sure, your doctor will take a swab from the affected area and send it for culture in the lab.

You should also ask your doctor for a complete work-up (and not just a gynecological exam) if your yeast infections keep coming back. The chronic infections could be a way for your body to tell you that something much more serious is going on, such as diabetes, a thyroid disorder, leukemia, or AIDS.

Getting a diagnosis from a health care professional is important for another reason, too. As I mentioned earlier, yeast is very popular among genetic scientists because they multiply and change so fast. What this means is that every time you use a natural or over-the-counter anti-fungal medication when you don’t need to, you are giving your yeast an opportunity to become drug resistant. And this could make future real yeast infections much more difficult to treat.

61 thoughts on “Symptoms of Bacterial Infections that Mimic Vaginal Yeast Infections

    1. The most important thing to know is that you should make an appointment with your doctor. You may not have a yeast infection, as you can see in the post above.

  1. Can a yeast infection cause bacterial vaginosis? Can you have both a yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis at the same time, and if so how can you treat both. I took fluconazole 150 mg tablet a week ago and still have some symptoms, less discharge but still a bit uncomfortable with redness and irritation, I have refills of the medication should I take another dosage?

    1. Hi Lisa. I don’t know the answer to your questions, but they are certainly interesting. The best way to find out would be to call your doctor. Did she indicate how quickly your infection should go away, or how long to take the medication? If not, a quick call to the doctor’s office should give you the answers you need.

  2. Hi Jonni-
    I have had itching in my vaginal area, including the opening. Also, the urethra area is very tender. It all feels slightly swollen. I have no pain during urination, and no irregular discharge or odor. Sexual activity is once every week or so; nothing really out of the ordinary that I can think of. I despise going to any doctor, and have not had the need for one in at least three years. I am usually the ‘picture of health’, am an avid believer in herbal remedies, which I use for any issues that come up. My age is, ughhh- almost 48 years old. Your input would be much appreciated.

    1. There are a number of traditional home yeast infection treatments discussed on this site. It is important to remember that none of the home remedies are guaranteed to work, and there really isn’t any way to know for sure that your symptoms are caused by yeast unless you’re tested by a doctor. However, some people do have good luck with home treatments (but one person wrote in to say the honey idea seemed to make her infection worse).

      Good luck. If you don’t get relief soon, please make that appointment.

  3. Hello i have a bacteria infection. According to the doctor it is because i shave & sweat a lot. I don’t know. But i did try otc treatments for yeast infections before going to doctor. I’m in so much pain right now. On the meds for only 2 day with a 7 day treatment. I really don’t have the money to go back. Can you help me.

    1. Jackie, an OTC yeast infection treatment doesn’t have the medication you need for a bacterial infection. They’re two entirely different things. If you already saw your doctor, she might write a prescription and call it in to your pharmacy without needing another appointment. If the doctor’s office can’t do that, you might try the local Planned Parenthood office, which (I think, but I’m not sure) has a sliding scale for their fees.

  4. I have been experiencing abdominal pain consistantly for the past four days…I went to the doctor and she said I have a vaginal infection alot of good that does me there are many types of vaginal infections so which one do I have the dotor obviously does not know. I do have some discharge but it is a pinkish red color which I found odd has any one else had this? Also I dont have a period so thats not the reason for it.

    1. Amelia, the only way to know what kind of bacterial infection you have is for the doctor to run a lab test. If that hasn’t been done yet, you probably want to go back to her office and get it done. The abdominal pain is particularly worrisome. Was she in a real hurry or something? You really should have received more information than you did. Or did she give you some medication, but forgot to tell you exactly what was wrong?

  5. hey i have had a yeast infection and the vignal bacterial infection i got treatment for both and then after i took the meds for both i still had the white cloudy discharge still i went to the doctor and then did another test it came back negative and supposly i dont have anything. but i still have the the clody discharge it kind of looks like a yeast sometimes its clear other times its cloudy white looking discharge. i dont know what else to do my test keep coming back that i dont have anything when i clearly do. could this be a hidden std should i go for another test he also referred me to the gynecologist but i am scared she to is going to say i am okay please help if you have heard of anything like this or what it could be.

    thanks rose

    1. I don’t think it would be possible for us to diagnose anything from this far away. My suggestion is that you make that appointment with the gynecologist, and ask her to run whatever tests are needed.

  6. Hi Jonni,

    A couple days ago I felt incredibly itchy in and around my vagina. It literally drives me up the wall. I thought it was my underwear, but the itching hasn’t stopped since last weekend and it is now Thursday. I don’t think I’m swollen, and I can’t really smell anything out of the ordinary, but tonight I had some strange occurrences.

    I thought it was a yeast infection, so I bought over the counter medication cream that I insert into my vagina every night for the next week. Last night it was fine, but tonight I pulled out the applicator and noticed blood on the tubing. I am very close to starting my period again, so I thought that was normal. However, I inserted a finger to see if there was white lumpy discharge, and I seen none. The other day there was, but I haven’t checked again until tonight, and I didn’t see any.

    I am a college student and away from home, sexually active with one person and have been for months, and have never had a yeast infection.

    Should I be worried? I don’t know if this is a yeast infection, or if I’m just talking myself into thinking I am worse off. Should I continue the at home treatment? I am not under insurance because of government changes, so the doctor and medicine bill would be out the roof for me. I really don’t want to go unless I really need to.

    Please help. I’m very afraid.

    Thank you.

    1. Brittany, is there a school clinic or nurse that you could see? Many college towns have a free clinic or some way for people to get treatment if they can’t afford normal prices. And sometimes you can get an appointment with a nurse practitioner who has a separate practice, and who doesn’t charge as much as a doctor would. It would be worth checking into – there’s no way that anyone could diagnose your problem over the internet.

    1. It could be either a yeast infection or a bacterial infection. Since some bacterial infections can move up into the uterus, you’ll want to have a doctor run a test to find out exactly what you’ve got, and how to get rid of it.

  7. i had chlamydia and i had taken the pills givin to me from my obgyn or whatever but my boyfriend did not get treated and a month after it seems like sytoms are comming back but when i went to get examined they said i had Bacterial Vaginosis.
    can that be because my boyfriend didnt get his chlamydia taken care of?

    1. Robin, you should check with your doctor, but it does look like chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection, so your boyfriend probably needs to be treated. If he doesn’t want to do that for some reason, you’d need to use protection, because you could be re-infected. As for the BV, though, that is probably a totally different thing. It can be caused by a number of different bacteria, and you definitely want to get it treated. Usually, though, if you have chlamydia your doctor will be specific and tell you that’s what you’ve got.

      So, it does look like your boyfriend needs to get himself to the doctor, whether your current infection is sexually transmitted or not. Chlamydia is not something you want to mess around with.

  8. Jonni:

    Hello. I was reading this board. I just had a gyn appt yesterday. Let me fill you in on some history. In March of this year I found out I was pregnant with our first baby. In June I went to the ER because I was wiping blood and got scared. They discovered I had no amniotic fluid left. Needless to say I gave birth and the baby did not survive b/c he was way to young. I started BCP in August b/c we do not want to TTC right now. About 2 weeks ago I started having symptoms of a yeast infection. Gave myself a self exam and sure enough I had the “yeast infection” signs. I called the OB/GYN and she recommended I use Monistat 7. I started that tx. That Saturday I started bleeding. At first it was brown, then on Sunday it was extremely heavy and lasted about 4 days. I called them again and they explained that it could still be the break through bleeding but to monitor the bleeding. She told me to stop the monistat b/c it would not work while I was bleeding. I did. However, the whitish discharge went away and I was left with the red, irritated and inflamed vaginal area. I made an appt b/c after researching on the internet with my symptoms it scared me into thinking that maybe I had something else. I have been with the same partner for a year. My gyn did his exam and said that he feels as though it is a bacterial infection. I will know the results in 2 days. He did say that my vaginal area and cervix are normal. He did not prescribe me with any medicine. Is that common until they get the results back? It sounds like from what he is saying that I have BV. I was just wondering what your thoughts are on this. Thanks for your time.

    1. Sheryl, I’m not a doctor, so I can’t tell you what’s “normal.” However, if you don’t have a bacterial infection, there wouldn’t be much point in giving you antibiotics. The results usually come back very quickly, so I’d just hang in there and wait. Be sure to let your doctor know that you’re worried, and ask lots of questions – sometimes they’re in so much of a hurry that they don’t notice that they aren’t giving you the answers you really need.

  9. Hi jonni,
    so last weekend my boyfriend and I had a lot of sex I was dry during most of it kept going I became very irritated after the weekend and had symptoms like a yeast infection I took a three day suppository medication and things started to clear up expect for the itchiness made an appointment at planed parenthood and the doctor gave me a pill and creme which the itchiness and everything has gone away the only lingering problem is that the inside of my vagina is still a little tender and light red and i feel some pressure and slight burn when I so tried to have sex that normal when a yeast infection is ending? Should I wait to have sex a couple more days and if the slight burning does not go away should I go back to the doctor?

    1. I think that it’s always a good idea to not have sex if it hurts. What would be the point, really? As for the burning, you will want to at least call the doctor if it doesn’t go away. Depending on how many tests she took the first time, it’s always possible that there’s something else going on. Or you may simply have some scraped tissue that was injured before, and now needs to heal. She should be able to give you more information so you’ll know exactly what’s going on. I’m a strong believer in asking tons of questions when you talk to a doctor – they’re too busy to think to tell you the important stuff if you don’t ask.

      Did she give you a recommendation for a lubricant, by any chance?

  10. Well here is the thing I went four days after taking the 3weekend day over the counter she looked under the microscope and said she found no yeast or other bacterial infections so im assuming the over the counter cleared it out she said sometimes the yeast lingers externally which explained my itching and the pill and creme blew it out but the inside still hurts she said to get an std test although I have been with one partner for the past 7 months so she kinda freaked me out that I have an std and I feel u maybe right with my inside is so sensitive the pressure and burning seems to go day by day I will go back by next Thursday if the feeling doesn’t go away

  11. i suspect i have a yeast infection so i got some yeast infection treatment but after using it the first day i satarted bleeding. it could be my period since it was just a few days away from the normal time i get my periods. I am still using the medication, is it worth it or should i wait until the period is gone? Another question my period is very light although i normally have a hevy flaw, on the first day it was light red and the second it is very dark and unusual, at the same time i am having severe pains. What could this be?

    1. Whenever “severe pain” is one of your symptoms, it’s time to make an immediate appointment with your doctor. I’ve never heard anyone describe a yeast infection the way you did in your comments, so I urge you to make that call.

  12. Dear Jonni,

    About a week ago I started experiencing pain during intercourse, and then itching, and then a fair amount of white and yellow vaginal discharge. I took an over the counter version of Monistat because I was pretty sure it was a yeast infection – even though I have never had one before. My symptoms are better – no more discharge, no itchiness, but it still hurts to have sex. Do i just need to wait longer? Or is there something else wrong?

    Also, I was on the Nuva Ring, but I removed it when I put in the Monistat because I read that the Nuva Ring may be the culprit of yeast infections. I am uncertain whether or not to continue on this method of birth control. Do you think the Nuva Ring had anything to do with it?

  13. Hi, I really need help. I am currently 7 weeks pregnant with my 3rd child. Around 2 weeks ago I had to go to the emergency room due to a bad pain in my belly. They didi a outside ultrasound and and inside the vagina ultrasound. They diagnosed me with vaginitis candida and bacterial vagonisis garderlla. I took the treatment of metrogel for 5 days as told. But I didnt gwt the other cream due to pharmacy. I still have the pain in my belly and I still have a very heavy discharge and lots of burning when urinating. My doctor told me that shes not going to give me anything for the yeast infection until Im 12 weeks. I took everyday showers for the treatment of metrogel but now I take a shower one every other day to my pain. How can I know if my amniotic fluid is infected or any part of my womb or uterus? Please help Im really worried thank you.

    1. Yissel, the questions you’re asking can only be answered by your doctor. If she doesn’t have time to help you with them, perhaps you could call the office and have a chat with the nurse. You definitely need to know what’s going on.

  14. I cant seem to figure out whats wrong with me because the only symptoms i have are thick discharge and slight itching. There’s no smell, no pain, no burning or bleeding. It keeps coming back and im not sure why.

  15. hi i have gave birth 11 weeks ago.i thought i had started my first period but ive had a lot of pain..itchness..heavy bleedin and it smells gros :/ could this be an infection???

  16. Hi, I’m 33 almost 34 weeks pregnant and was diagnosed with the common yeast infection. Caused by pregnancy and being.on antibiotics for having a tooth pulled.I have started using a form of monistat ( off brand ) but only one time so far. My symptoms are so severe I am worried I. Could have a worse infection then what I was told. Also am afraid to go to the bathroom after using the cream.? What to do?

    1. Linda, these are really the kinds of questions you need to ask your doctor. If you think you may have a bacterial infection, or if you’re concerned about using the anti fungal medication while pregnant, it’s a good idea to call the office and get expert advice.

  17. I have BV and I’m taking my meds but I’m still having discharge I was wondering was that normal I just don’t want to have an std.

  18. I’ve had three sex partners and the last ten years. After having sex with them they would get symptoms of yeast infections or bacterial infections. After going to the doctors they tell me its not an STD but a problem with my PH level. Is this my curse or is it something medical we can do about this.

    1. I haven’t heard of this before. I assume you talked to your own doctor about this? Perhaps a change in diet could help. Any ideas, anyone?

  19. hey i had chlmydia a few weeks ago and i went i got it treated and im pretty sure my boyfriend got treated as well but now im having a itchy vagina with a musty smell and light yellowish discharge. what is that about..should i go see my doctor again or can i do some type of home remedies?

    1. It’s possible that you have a yeast infection because of the antibiotics. But there’s only one way to know for sure, and that’s to have it tested. Or maybe you could just call them and see what they think. Yogurt works well for a lot of people, but not always.

  20. Hello. I have been having this really annoying feeling that I can’t describe in my general area. It keeps me up at night and happens when I’m standing for long periods of time.. Most of the time at work. It happens on and off but is really irritating while it’s there. I also noticed that my urine was foggy and had an odor but thats kind of normal for me. I thought it was because I don’t drink alot of water. it burned a little when I peed too. My doctor told me I had a yeast infection and gave me one pill that was suppose to take care of things. About a week later I was having sex and my cum left this weird rash on my boyfriend. Not long after that I noticed a milky discharge and blood spoting in my underwear. I’m really parinoid that I might have an STD. Help!

    1. Jessica, you should return to the the doctor and ask for a test to see if you have a bacterial or viral infection. That’s the only way for you to know for sure, and knowing is a lot better than worrying about it. Make that call.

  21. I have burnig when urinating itching and a oder plus sometimes a discharge yellowish or white i dont know if its a yeast or a urinary tract ifection or some thing else! Also i some times get cramp ar slight sharp pains! i have no rid or money to go to the doctor!!!

    1. Kitten, if you’re having sharp pains, you really need to see a doctor. The sooner the better. Is there a low-cost clinic in your area? Do you have a Planned Parenthood clinic?

  22. i had yeast infection durin march but i seen the doctor and it was cured then the following month april i had thick yellow discharge i went to see another doctor and was dignosed with bladder infection. i was given some antibiotics. after 2 weeks my symptoms seems to improved but now im taking an antibiotic amoxicillin to cure my bladder infection. i have some clear discharge coming back. should i go back and see the doctor? im very worried the infection might not cure

  23. Hi, i found out about a week ago that im pregnant 5 weeks and 3days. I went to the ER yesterday because i thought i had a yeast infection, a little clumpy discharge and a Little itchy and i kinda feel irritated down there but there’s no burning or smell. They did a pelvic exam and tested for all std’s, yeast, and bv and they all came back negative. What could possibly be wrong with me. They went ahead and treated me with Antibiotics even though all test came back negative. Im so clueless right now. I guess i just have to wait a few days to see if the irritated feeling goes away… What do u think it could be?

    1. I have no idea what it could be. Since you’re now taking antibiotics, it might be a good idea to eat some unsweetened yogurt, to help balance things out. People often get yeast infections when taking antibiotics. If you have a regular doctor for your pregnancy, that would be the right person to ask about your symptoms.

  24. All test came back negative for everything but i have slight itching with a little clumpy discharge. What could it be?

  25. Hi jonni
    I did pid test last month in which I was giving some antibiotics. Then layer I did urine test and ultrasound to be sure it has been cleared off. So therefore, I was still having itching which I later did a swab test and it came out negative. Meaning I’m in perfect health but still was given some antibiotics and suppository. What do you think might have caused the itching ?

  26. Hi Jonni,
    Please I really need you to help me with this. Am expecting my period may 6th but I have been having this cramp. For like a week now that use to weak my legs and makes me feel weak. And for like a whole day my stomach was like turning me and made me feel dizzy. My left lower abdomen I felt pain there too. What do you think moght be the cause?

    1. Ruth, you need to get yourself to a doctor. In fact, I would suggest that you go to an urgent care clinic as soon as possible. I have no idea what is causing your symptoms, but you need a real doctor to help you find out.

  27. Hey jonni…well i found out what had me so bothered. My boyfriend washed the clothes in some carpet cleaner and he didn’t know until after i wore the panties that had gotten washed. But im all better now. Thanks though

  28. hi, last night i’ve inserted a gyno travogen ovule into my vagina. it was prescribed by my doctor. but this morning i woke up to find a huge amount of discharge. did my infection worsen or this is just normal because the pessary killed the fungi infection?

    1. I’m not a doctor, Diana, so I can’t answer your question. But it’s a good question, so I suggest that you call your doctor’s office. The nurse might be able to answer it over the phone.

  29. Hi, what is the connection between a very itchy vagina and bad shoulder pain ? The warning label on all monistat yeast infection products say not to use if you are experiencing shoulder pain because you could have a more serious illness, but monistat does not say what those more serious illness could be. Im hoping you could tell me what those illnesses could be ?

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